Dress the Mouse in Black

Grief is a mouse in the house. Unless it’s taken outside now and then, it will nibble a person away and leave an empty husk behind. No one survives death, of course, but some do not survive grief. I discovered this when my wife Evelyn unexpectedly died of a heart attack in her forties. I […]

Stonewall and the Village

I lived on Waverly Place then, around the corner from the local cruising stretch of Christopher Street. The acquaintances I collected at the time thought I was somebody, had to be somebody to live in the center of Greenwich Village. But of course I was the nobody Rilke spoke of in the “Homeless Waif,” Ich […]

Judy Bolton, Girl Detective, Girl Thief

I was six years old the first time I saw a mystery novel on my older cousin’s bookshelf with my own name, Judy Bolton, on the spine. I couldn’t stop my finger from tracing the letters boldly printed across the front of that hardcover book. I like to think my father chose the name for […]

Sailing into Saigon

It’s still dark, 0500 on a December morning. From our ship out in the harbor we see the lights of San Diego sparkle on the horizon. We are excited by the lights. Because for so much of the last four months the horizon has merely blended with the blue of the ocean. Nearly one thousand […]

Oranges

It’s terrible when you’re defeated by a bag of oranges. The oranges were just a purchase, one of many at the supermarket. It was such a tiny act, so lost in the millions of ordinary tasks of the day that I don’t remember the details. Maybe it was Tuesday and raining, or Thursday and annoyingly […]

Tackle Box

“I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare.” —Ecclesiastes 7:26 Some interstate in the south. I’m around seven. We’ve been in the car for hours—en route to […]

When You Stop Digging

I have started going to Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meetings—the acronym is SLAA, pronounced like the chopped cabbage side-dish that a friend of mine once declared only straight people eat. Which means that the other program I belong to, the so-called “beverage program,” which shall remain nameless because the first rule of Fight Club […]

Dad Died

When I was little, Dad would get into the car and say, “Let’s get lost.” “OK,” I’d shout. “Let’s get lost.” At each intersection he’d ask, “Which way?” until we didn’t know where we were anymore. “Look,” I’d tell Mom when we banged into the breakfast room later. “Dad bought me a diary with a […]

Dayenu

The rabbi hands me the shovel, instructing me to invert its bowl before scooping the first mound of earth onto my father’s grave. This is the custom, he explains. To honor our loved one’s memory, we must demonstrate our reluctance to perform this obligatory task. With an upside-down shovel, the rabbi says, his free hand […]

Requiem for a Marriage

“To James, In Requiem,” the wedding present ditty reads. I open a yellowed envelope and find it tucked in a “Wedding Congratulations” card dated April 10, 1948, signed by twenty-seven people. My father’s coworkers at his engineering firm perhaps? None of the names seem familiar. A lavender orchid decorates the front of the card, with […]

This Is the Way We Wash the Clothes

FACT: I am fourteen years old. I already know more than my mother does. She doesn’t drive. She doesn’t work. My mother quit school after eighth grade and went to vocational school. Now she has kids in grade school, junior high, and high school, plus four more at home, three in diapers, cloth diapers. Every […]

Phantom Language

Some years ago—never mind how long precisely “I don’t remember anything that happened to me.” Michael lifts his hands to chest level as if he is about to catch something. He has beautiful hands that make neat stitches on a hem or trace in the air music’s rise and fall. Now they feel the emptiness […]

The List

Toothpaste, toilet paper, hamburger, ketchup, buns. Five items make a Saturday morning grocery list. My wife rehearses the items with me, face-to-face, asking me to repeat the list. It’s the only way she knows I understand her. When she asks if I understand, I always nod my head. I double check my wallet for money, […]

Forty-Two Measures of Rest

My younger sister Beth is driving home from a visit to her college town. She is flipping through songs on her iPod, listening to her friend Matt talk in the passenger seat. Christmas was a few days ago and snowflakes drift lazily through the air, too light and swift to land. The day seems simple […]

Just Walk Away

I grab my baby and run outside, screaming for help. No one steps outside when they think there’s trouble. It’s hotter than hell on this shit hole street in Tucson. The neighbors are sitting inside drinking beer, cursing the humidity that’s sucking away the coolness from their rusty swamp coolers. I’m standing on the road, […]

Heart of the City

Cliff’s meaty fingers hunt and jab through his report on Arthur Ashe—eyes darting between computer screen and handwritten paper—while Starship’s We Built This City plays on 106.7. “Yes, sir,” Cliff says in his gravelly voice, tapping his foot. He jabs a letter, glances at the screen, jabs another, double-checks to make sure this machine isn’t […]

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation

I ask Luke to please control the monkey. The monkey is a puppet on Luke’s hand—a floppy fabric imitation of the animal with bits of pink silk for the insides of the ears—and he is ambushing the other children. Luke sneaks up behind a girl who is coloring and grabs her face with the monkey. She screams. […]

Writing My Way Out of the Past

When I was a child, I signed my granddaddy’s Social Security checks for him. He never learned to read or write, and he never attended any type of school. As the grandson of slaves from Georgia and South Carolina, all my granddaddy knew of the world was the tiny corner of northeast Georgia where we […]

Baby Talk

While they are standing online waiting to jump into the Double Dutch ropes, I overhear twelve year old Margie Golden tell Sarah Lundy about abortion. “What’s abortion?” I ask. “Never mind,” Margie says, tossing her fat braids that always hit her in her fat face when she tries to make her fat body jump. “What’s […]